WASHINGTON – Attorney General Holder on Monday called cuts to early voting a ‘step backward’ as restrictions take effect in Ohio and elsewhere.
On the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision late last month to allow Ohio’s new voting law to go into effect, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized the law’s restrictions on early voting, which he said were “heavily used” by African-American voters.
“It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect,” the Attorney General said in a video message posted on the Justice Department’s website. “Early voting is about much more than making it more convenient for people to exercise their civic responsibilities. It’s about preserving access and openness for every eligible voter, not just those who can afford to miss work or who can afford to pay for childcare.”
The Ohio law has been the subject of a lawsuit by civil rights groups and the Justice Department filed a brief in the case in July. A federal judge ruled that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and blocked it from taking effect. A federal appeals court judge upheld that ruling, but the Supreme Court disagreed and ruled the law should go into effect immediately. Absent the Court’s ruling, early voting would have begun in Ohio last Tuesday.
In North Carolina, the Justice Department has directly challenged a state law that cuts back on early voting and eliminates same-day registration. While no ruling on the merits has been issued yet in that case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week to allow much of the law—including the reductions to early voting—to go into effect in the meantime.
The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message appears below.
“One of the Justice Department’s most solemn responsibilities is ensuring access to the ballot box for every eligible citizen. And over the last six years, my colleagues and I have taken robust action to protect the voting rights of all Americans – including communities that have been too long overlooked and too often underserved.
“Before the Shelby County case was wrongly decided, we successfully challenged efforts in Texas and Florida that would have disproportionately disenfranchised citizens of color in those states, and South Carolina had to make changes to its voting restrictions. It should not be lost on us that almost as soon as the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County was handed down, the state of Texas implemented a photo ID law that the courts had previously blocked, and that North Carolina implemented sweeping restrictions on voting rights. The Department of Justice has now been forced to challenge those discriminatory laws in court.
“Our work has taken us to other parts of our nation as well. We have worked to protect the voting rights of servicemembers, and to ensure accessible polling places throughout Indian Country and Alaska Native communities. And we have fought back against discriminatory redistricting proposals that may make it more difficult for many Americans to make their voices heard.
“Despite these efforts, in some places, we’ve continued to see troubling new measures that unnecessarily restrict the ability of particular Americans to participate in the democratic process. Ohio, for example, has imposed new restrictions that significantly reduce opportunities for early voting – opportunities that had in the past been heavily used by African-American voters.
“The early voting times targeted for cancellation – including weeknight and Sunday hours – previously provided critical opportunities for many people to get to the polls. In 2012, tens of thousands of Ohio voters cast their ballots during the voting days that Ohio has now eliminated. And studies suggest that these restrictions will disproportionately affect people with childcare responsibilities, hourly salaries, and reduced access to transportation – people who may have difficulty getting to the polls at any other time, and who are much more likely to be low-income or minority individuals.
“It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect. The public should be demanding the state officials who seek to impose these restrictions to justify—clearly, factually, and empirically—why they are necessary. Early voting is about much more than making it more convenient for people to exercise their civic responsibilities. It’s about preserving access and openness for every eligible voter, not just those who can afford to miss work or who can afford to pay for childcare. That’s why a number of states have expanded early voting in recent years. Throughout our nation’s history, we’ve repeatedly seen that there is simply no good reason – no good reason – to reduce voting access. Indeed, the arc of our nation’s history has, until recently, been to expand access to the ballot. Restricting voting hours in ways that would disproportionately impact minority communities is not only unnecessary and unwarranted – it is out of step with our history of continually expanding the franchise. It is contrary to our fundamental values of equality, opportunity, and inclusion. And it is an affront to millions who have marched, and fought, and too often died to make real America’s most basic promise. Three brave young men gave their lives in 1964, as did a courageous Detroit mother of five in 1965, so that others might be able to vote and be truly free. Are we now to turn our back on those ultimate sacrifices?
“We at the Department of Justice will never rest in our efforts to ensure the right to vote. Nor will I. And today, I’m calling on election officials and other public servants at every level across the country – men and women who are charged with upholding America’s highest ideals – to consider their responsibilities not to political constituencies, but to the country we all serve. To think about the deep unfairness of curtailing voting opportunities. And to reflect on their place in the history of this country to which they are potentially consigning themselves.
“In a great nation governed both by and for the people, our advances have always been of our own making. And going forward, it will be up to all of us to ensure that engagement in that democratic process remains the responsibility and the birthright of every American.”